University spinoff receives $750K to develop iron-based alternative to gadolinium contrasts

A contrast agent company spun off from the University at Buffalo in New York has received $750,000 in financing to develop iron-based agents for MR imaging, according to a May 20 announcement.

Ferric Contrast says its new funding—part of a phase II Small Business Technology Transfer award from the National Science Foundation—will enable it to improve the “chemical properties” of its iron-based contrast agents and scale up production.

The company, which is based at the UB Technology Incubator in Amherst, New York, says its new agents may offer an alternative to gadolinium-based complexes traditionally used during MRI exams.

“Since we started the company in 2017, concerns in medicine have only increased over the gadolinium-based MRI contrast agents available today,” Bradford La Salle, co-founder and president of Ferric Contrast, said in the announcement. “Doctors and patients want new options."

There’s been a number of endeavors investigating the possibility of a gadolinium-free MRI contrast agent, including a University of Texas at Dallas project utilizing organic radical contrast agents.

Janet Morrow, PhD, a co-founder of Ferric and UB chemistry professor, says the interest in iron-based compounds is largely due to the fact that the element is found naturally in the body, unlike gadolinium.

“Iron is regulated, recycled and stored in humans, making it more likely that the body can handle any accumulated iron,” Morrow, who also serves as Ferric Contrast’s chief scientific officer, added in the statement. “We have developed iron complexes that are highly soluble and stabilized in the trivalent high-spin form.”

There’s been no shortage of debate over the nature and link between the administration of gadolinium-based agents and a host of symptoms termed gadolinium deposition disease. Deposition of the material in tissue including the brain, skin, bone, and kidneys after GBCA exposure has been proposed as the cause of GDD, but some experts have questioned the linkage.

On such skeptic, H. Benjamin Harvey, MD, a neuroradiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, said during a session at last year’s RSNA annual meeting that he does not believe the disease is real and encouraged radiology to take a data-driven approach to paint an accurate picture of contrasts.